June 2013

Potato Dig Party

. . . Jun 25, 2013 | posted by randy
Our digging crew

This week the sweet potatoes went in and the Irish potatoes came out!  Calling them Irish is a bit misleading.  Like all of our squash and beans, potatoes come from the Americas.  Specifically, potatoes come from the Andes where they were domesticated between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago in modern day Peru where 3,800 or so varieties are grown today.  The first potato did not arrive in Ireland until 1589.  So, thanks to 14 wonderful helpers on Sunday, we dug another 250 pounds of Andean potatoes.  A special thanks to Chris and Claire for doing the lion’s share of heavy lifting.   If you are curious to know how commercial potato farmers get their crop out of the ground, check out this video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3kATkCQ9kI
Planting sweet potato slips at duskSaturday through Monday of last week we planted sweet potatoes – which are in fact cousins of the morning glory and are completely unrelated to Andean potatoes, which are closely related to tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  Like Andean potatoes, however, sweet potatoes are grown vegetatively, which means by cloning.  Every potato plant is a genetic clone of the parent.  While cloning animals is a feat of modern technology, cloning plants is old hat.  Sweet potato slips are cuttings of sweet potato vines grown from last year’s tubers.
I picked up 1000 slips from Jamie Williamson on Saturday who advised me to get out into the field and get them in the ground because rain was coming the next day.  We dutifully headed out to Planting sweet potatoes at duskdisk the field, make beds, and tuck the slips into the ground with my new, high tech sweet potato planter – a metal rod with a notch cut out of the end.  We got about 200 slips in that evening before we ran out of daylight.  At 5am Sunday morning we were back out in the field planting, but the rain kept driving us out.  I finally got done slogging around a muddy field Monday morning – all our slips are in and they are looking good.
In other news, we have diagnosed our persistent brassica problem: BLACK ROT!  The cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale and turnips were all effected this spring…which is why you have been getting so much more chard than kale!  Of the few cabbages left behind by the rabbits, we were only about to harvest about half of them, the rest fell to black rot.  Black rot is a bacterial infection that comes in on seeds and is spread by touch.  It cannot be cured, only prevented.  When we start planting our fall brassicas in July we will sterilized our seed trays, scrap all untested seeds, and hope for the best!

On Thinning

. . . Jun 12, 2013 | posted by Josephine
3 rows of carrots per bed

Now that I have thinned a third of a mile of carrots, I feel entitled to subject you to my musings on the topic.  For those who don’t know, thinning refers to pulling out all the plants that are too close together.  Many of the crops that we grow by planting seeds directly out into the garden (as opposed to transplanting) will need some amount of thinning, but nothing in more onerous than thinning carrots. 

Why is it so hard to thin carrots?  Partly, it’s because I feel guilty pulling out a plant that I asked to grow.  I put it in the ground, and it did everything I wanted it to, only to be pulled out and cast aside.  What an injustice!  Until I realized – News Flash – the carrot doesn’t care.  The carrot’s goal is to make seeds that will grow into more carrots.  I am confident that whether you pull the carrot as a tiny seedling or as a full grown root makes no difference to the plant.  Not that I think carrots have consciousness, but even if they did I would make no self-centered assumption that they would feel better about their abbreviated life if their fate were to be eaten rather than cast aside.  How ego-centric of me!

Another issue is excessive, Scrooge-like frugality.  I try to squeeze too many in.  A carrot saved is a carrot earned, Poor Richard might say.  But thinning isn’t wasteful.  In fact, a well thinned bed will produce more usable carrots.  Not thinning is wasteful.

Of course there is the “what if I pull out the wrong one” argument.  What if that Tomatoes are looking goodone carrot I just pulled was the big one, the State Fair carrot?  As new farmers, we have to make zillions of decisions all the time with little experience to guide us.  Which carrot to pull is of little consequence in comparison.  In summary: it doesn’t matter, just pull one.

The good news is that there is a cure for carrot thinning anxiety.  It comes with experience.  I actually enjoy thinning carrots now.  No moral crisis, no existential dilemma.  Once you do it enough, you get over it.  Need some carrot thinning immersion therapy?  We’ll have another third of a mile in carrots to thin in September.  Make your reservations now.

The orchard looks good, needs weeding but what doesn'tAnd isn’t thinning a great metaphor for life?  Sometimes we just have to pare things down so that what we do choose to focus our love and energy on can thrive.  You can’t grow every carrot, and you can’t do everything.  Thinning carrots is about finding balance.

That concludes the pep talk.  If you find yourself faced with some thinning, here are my top tips:
•    Instead of deciding which plant to pull out, focus on the one you want to keep and just pull out everything around it.
•    Never try to “save” your thinning by replanting them.  If you have space and want more, reseed. 
•    If you need proof that your efforts are worth it, leave part of the bed un-thinned, and see what kind of difference it really makes.
•    Don’t seed so heavily.  For carrots, pelleted seed helps or mixing seed with sand before planting.

Changing of the seasons

. . . Jun 12, 2013 | posted by Josephine
Truck load of veggies

It is time to say goodbye to the green leafiness of spring.  This week may be the last for lettuce.  The kale has given up the ghost.  A few lonely turnips and kohlrabi remain.  The chard has slowed down considerably.  The spinach and arugula have long since bolted.  The radishes and bok choi are a distant memory. 

The fact that the spring garden is winding down is a good thing.  Mostly because it is entirely engulfed in weeds…But new things are coming in to fill the void.  The zucchini has started to produce.  The onions and garlic will be fully mature soon.  The potatoes are almost ready for digging.  In fact, we dug ourselves a little sampler pack this weekend – one each of our seven varieties – to see how they were coming along.  I had been worried all spring about them rotting in the ground; it has been so cold and wet and we planted them super early.  It may not be a bumper crop, but they are looking good all the same – never mind the fact that Yang Farm has had potatoes at the farmers market for two weeks already.  How do they do that?

I am hoping that the long awaited carrots are just a few short weeks away.  [We know you have been wondering but are too polite to ask.]  We have been tending 1800 row feet of carrots.  Yup, that is a third of a mile.  I promise you lots and lots of carrots.

The later summer crops are still a ways away: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, cowpeas, cucumbers, melons… but everything is growing.  Even though the spring crops are just now winding down, it is already time to get ready for their encore in the fall.  That is the great thing about cool season vegetables: most of them are in season twice each year!  Time to make plans and order seeds – always a challenge for me because I want to grow everything.  Did we grow a lettuce that you loved?  Did we grow one that you hated?  This would be a good time to make your case for your favorite cool-season crops and varieties to make sure they get a replay in the fall.

A Change in the Plan

. . . Jun 04, 2013 | posted by Josephine
Poor Rosie

This week we are practicing an important farmer skill: knowing when to abort the mission, give up, change the plan. 

About a month ago, we had three acres of new field plowed for next year’s vegetables.  The wet weather and our busy schedule has kept us from getting our cover crop in.  For once I can say, thank goodness we are behind schedule.  In the past month, the three acre field has erupted in Johnson grass.  Johnson grass is a particularly pernicious weed.  It grows from a fat rhizome deep underground and is virtually impossible to eradicate organically except by digging out each and every piece of the root.  Disking simply spreads it.  In fact, it’s pretty hard to wipe out with herbicides, too.

This week we took a good hard look at that plot and decided to change our plans.  There is no way we can successfully grow vegetables in that mat of rhizomes.

Our ggod help, JamesNow we have to get the farmer to come back and turn over three more acres somewhere else.  And we have to figure out what to do with our three acres of Johnson grass besides letting it slowly march into the adjacent crop field – which has plenty of the stuff already.  Here are a few options: 1) get some cows.  Johnson grass makes good forage. 2) try to find something that competes well with Johnson grass and plant that.  3) try to kill it by starving and drying out the rhizomes by disking the crap out of it in August.  4) sell the farm and run away screaming.  Now that we have opened this Pandora’s box, we have to deal with it.

In other news, we have had some wonderful help this week from our friend, James Cox.  With his help, we have gotten most of the t-posts for the tomato trellises in, mulched all of the tomatoes, set up drip irrigation, and have done a lot of hoeing.  The first squash bugs have been sighted and squished, and Rosie the tractor is on strike with a bum head gasket.  Just another typical week on the farm.